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One of the biggest hurdles with travel is knowing how to save on food without sacrificing one of the special parts of your vacation. As a mom, travel is one of the few times that we can let someone else do the cooking for us. It’s such a fun break, and a great way to try new flavors, restaurants, and even to introduce your family to a new food. To keep in your budget, I am sharing some of my favorite ways to save on food.
20 Ways To Save On Food While Traveling
- Use coupons: Almost every chain restaurant offers an email club that will send you coupons for free appetizers, free desserts, free meals on your birthday, or even a buy one get one free meal. Check out your travel destination for chain restaurants you can utilize coupons at for discounted meals.
- Purchase gift cards through Restaurant.com: Restaurant.com is a great option for up to half-price off of a gift card. Most often, these come in $5, $15, $25, and $50 values. You pay half the value of the gift card, but some will have restrictions requiring the total of the meal to be $5-$10 more than the value of the gift certificate. They often do not cover alcohol. This usually ends up taking at least 40% off of your overall price of a meal. These are available typically for local restaurants and not chain restaurants.
- Share meals: Instead of ordering an entree for both yourself and your spouse, pick something that has more options and allows you to share the meal instead. For example, you may find a chicken pasta dish for only $7.99 on a menu, or you could pay $10.99 for grilled chicken with two sides. If the restaurant also offers free bread or chips and salsa, you can split the meal and pay half the price you would normally.
- Pack your own snacks: Whether you are taking a road trip or flying, you can easily pack a few snacks for your travel time that will save you the high prices of convenience stores or airports. You can also stock your hotel room with a few things to have between meals. Granola bars, cereal bars, trail mix, fruit, fruit snacks, and beef jerky are all great easy options.
- Cook some meals on your own: If you are staying in a condo or vacation home with kitchen facilities, you can easily stop by a grocery store and grab a few things to cook meals for yourself. Even if you only grab milk, cereal, sandwich items, or frozen pizzas to make it easy, you can save tons of money this way.
- Order only water. One of the biggest additional costs in restaurants is your drink order. For soft drinks and iced tea, you are typically paying anywhere from $1.79-$3.50 each. That can add up to $10-$15 extra at each meal for your family. Over the course of one day, you can save upwards of $50 just by drinking water.
- Skip the alcohol. As much as you want that glass of wine with dinner, this is one of the biggest added expenses you can quickly eliminate. Especially if you are able to pick up a bottle of wine and keep in your room or condo to have when you get back to you room instead of in a restaurant.
- Buy dining passes for amusement parks. One of the biggest ways to save on food when hitting up a theme park is to check out their dining passes. While not all are cost effective, there are tons that are a great deal. Look at the options online ahead of time, or ask friends who have already visited the park to make sure you are really getting the best deal.
- Skip kids meals. Don’t go without feeding your kids, but do consider that it may be cheaper for your kids to share an adult entree than to buy two kids meals. This is especially true if your kids don’t eat much at each meal. There are many kid-friendly entrees on most restaurant menus that can be split for 2-3 kids. Chicken tenders and fries or hamburger sliders are great options.
- Ask for vouchers through your hotel. Many hotels not only have discounts available at restaurants nearby, some will give you vouchers or gift cards when you book for a several night stay. When you check in, always ask the clerk about any local restaurant discounts they offer.
- Take advantage of free hotel breakfast or happy hour. Almost every chain motel and the hotel has a free breakfast option. Many are also now offering a free cocktail or happy hour. Take advantage of both for some great food at no extra cost.
- Skip desserts. Dessert options at restaurants are almost always way overpriced and underwhelming. I love cheesecake, but paying $5 for a slice at most restaurants is just ridiculous. Instead, you can stop by the local grocery store and pay $8 for an entire frozen cheesecake and take back to the room. Grab desserts only for a special occasion outside of restaurants, or pick up treats at the grocery store for half the price.
- Order appetizer samplers. Sometimes it is much less expensive to order 2-3 appetizers than to order entrees for everyone. This is especially true when you are looking at sampler platters that have 2-3 servings of their top sellers. You can pay $10 each for appetizer samplers and feed 4-5 people easily.
- Have a late lunch or early dinner. Lunch prices are always lower than dinner. Usually. the price change comes between 2pm-4pm. Check ahead of time and plan to make your larger meal the lunch meal at a lower price, and plan on having a snack or sandwich in your room later in the day.
- Choose all-inclusive resorts. If you are booking a vacation for the family that may have a resort option, check out the all-inclusive options available. Many resorts do include 3 meals a day plus snacks and beverages available on the property. The prices are typically lower than you would pay outside the property for 3 meals, snacks, and drinks throughout the day.
- Check out Happy Hour specials. Many restaurants offer special pricing on appetizers or select meals during Happy Hour. Additionally, you may find some that offer “late night deals” for those dining after 9pm.
- Skip the buffet. A buffet may seem like a great idea with the large variety available, but when traveling with kids this just isn’t a great way to save on food. The cost per person compared to what is actually eaten is usually just not worth it for younger kids or those who don’t eat a lot. Plus, they aren’t the healthiest choices.
- Use rewards cards. When traveling, earning rewards on purchases is always a good idea. There are hundreds of rewards clubs out there but some are especially great to take advantage of. Use credit cards that offer cash back rewards. Use Diner’s Club, or other similar dining discount cards. You can even use cards that individual restaurants give out for regular patrons.
- Ask about the daily specials. Not every restaurant will tell you the special of the day right away. Ask about daily specials since these often offer you a larger portion of a regular menu item for a lower price.
- Don’t order the combo. If you are hitting up a fast food restaurant out of convenience, don’t fall into the trap of ordering the combo or increasing the size of your food. While it is often an unhealthy trap, it is also a financial trap. Instead, order a sandwich for each family member, and split a larger side. If everyone has water, you’ve cut down tremendously on your bill and nobody goes hungry.
These tips for how to save on food when traveling will help stretch your vacation budget drastically.